In 1992, it was Pat Buchanan, the conservative, against "Read My Lips" betrayer Bush. In 1996, it was, again, Buchanan against moderate Bob Dole ("tax collector for the welfare state" in the immortal words of Newt Gingrich).
In 2000, we had conservative George W. Bush against liberal John McCain. In 2008, it was liberal McCain vs. Mitt Romney, the conservative.
You will note that liberal Republicans have always stayed liberal Republicans and conservative Republicans have always stayed conservative Republicans. Only their match-ups change.
Until this year.
For the first time, the last cycle's conservative has been rebranded a "liberal" by right-wingers eager to resume their battle against liberal Republicans. This year's actual liberal Republican, much admired by the Non-Fox Media, was Jon Huntsman. But he dropped out after the New Hampshire primary.
Mitt Romney isn't a liberal. He isn't even a moderate. And he certainly isn't liked by the Times.
Liberals so loathe Romney that in 2008, their most Christian-phobic columnist, Frank Rich, was forced to write admiringly about pro-life Christian conservative Mike Huckabee. He may have been a Christian, but at least he wasn't Mitt Romney!
Conservatives know perfectly well Romney isn't a "moderate" -- he was our conservative hero just four years ago!
Indeed, when Romney withdrew from the 2008 primary at CPAC that year, gallantly throwing his support to the front-runner, McCain, a college-age Christian standing next to a friend of mine expressed the general sentiment of the 10,000 assembled right-wingers by saying, "This f-ing blows."
But the need to revert to comfortable old roles has forced some right-wingers to designate our 2008 hero as the Rockefeller Republican this time around.
It has nothing to do with the facts. Conservatives who attack Romney as the "establishment Republican" are behaving like Democrats, giving us epithets in lieu of facts.
Perhaps it is because they were asleep at the wheel four years ago when Republicans actually did run a liberal for president that these conservatives feel the need to create an imaginary liberal Republican to oppose ferociously this time.
John McCain was worshipped by the liberal media, was the author of the unconstitutional campaign finance law and a global warming bill, adamantly supported amnesty for illegal aliens, opposed the Bush tax cuts as "tax cuts for the rich," wanted to shut down Guantanamo, called waterboarding "torture" and viciously attacked Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as "agents of intolerance" (and then immediately faxed that speech to The New York Times).
And he was from a conservative state! Where were you people four years ago when we were running him?
By contrast, when Romney was governor of Massachusetts, every single budget he submitted to the 85 percent Democratic legislature included tax cuts. He became a pro-lifer when it mattered -- while he was governor -- and vetoed a stem cell research bill. He slashed government spending in one of the most liberal states of the union. He is the rare elected Republican who is tough on illegal immigration. He has forcefully denounced Obama's dangerous foreign policy.
But the facts are irrelevant to people busy fighting the last war. It's not about Romney at all, but their own posing. Romney is the Emmanuel Goldstein of GOP primary voters looking for a moderate to hate because they fell down on the job last time.
Liberal Republicans always lose. Because he is not a liberal, Romney stands a good chance of beating Obama this fall. But if the fantasist posers keep turning this presidential race into their personal "Dungeons and Dragons" battle against "moderates," Romney's victory will go into the "Liberal Wins" column, when it is anything but.